Activities to Help People With Dementia Thrive

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If you care for a person who has Alzheimer’s, you probably know how important it is to raise awareness about the disease, its process, and its challenges and effects. This Saturday, September 21, 2013, you can celebrate Alzheimer's Action Day by participating in fundraising activities and wearing purple to show your support for the cause. As part of World Alzheimer's Month taking place throughout September, Alzheimer's Action Day is a great time to raise awareness about the disease that affects more than 35 million people and their families. Check out the Alzheimer’s Association’s three easy ways you can get involved.

Whether you’re a family member of a person with dementia or a professional caregiver, there are a variety of things you can do year-round to deepen support for the people who need our help. One essential thing is to help people with dementia make the most of all the things they CAN still do. In our Dementia Capable Care training, we teach that every person with dementia has remaining abilities throughout every stage of the disease. Even people in the end stages of dementia have abilities: they can feel and express love and make emotional connections with others. Check out this video to learn more. Kim Warchol tells a great story about using music to reach a man with end-stage dementia and awaken a precious memory for him.

Here are four great activities from both our staff and our Facebook community to help you engage the abilities and the senses of a person with dementia.

Watch Old Home Movies on DVD
Once old home movies are converted to DVD, watch them with the person in your care in short increments. If a movie is too long, the person may lose interest, but if you watch it in chunks, the person can tell you about the people in the movie who you don’t recognize. Comment on the surroundings, furniture, clothes, and the old-fashioned hats and cars to drive conversation and remembrance.

One great way to deepen the viewing experience is to bring other sensory components into the activity. For example, if you plan to watch a movie from a Christmas morning, make Christmas cookies and light pine-scented candles. Give the person a small present to unwrap. Think of what else you can do to enhance the sight, smell, taste, sound, and texture of the experience.

Look Through Old Magazines
Often, people with dementia want to be surrounded by familiar things, especially when they don't live at home anymore. In addition to making sure that a person feels comforted by favorite photos, blankets, and books, you can also try looking through old magazines with the person. Everyone likes reading articles or just looking at pictures of what we remember. You might be surprised by a person’s reaction to a picture of a dress or an article about a certain baseball season! If you don’t already have a collection in your basement or attic, you can purchase old magazines like Sports Illustrated, TV Guide, Vogue, and more on eBay or in used bookstores. Better still, if you can read to the person from these magazines, that will bring a warm connection that will help the person feel comfort and satisfaction.

The two ideas above come from CPI's Virginia Pflanz. Check out more helpful tips from Virginia.

Do a Spa Treatment
Another great activity to do, whether you care for a loved one with dementia at home or you work in a long-term care setting, is a sort of “spa treatment.” Use scented or unscented lotion to give the person a gentle hand and lower-arm massage, being careful of any wounds or skin conditions. A light massage will stimulate the person’s sense of touch and smell, and be especially helpful in the winter months when skin tends to be very dry. Play soft music or nature sounds to add another sense into the fold. Offer some juice or a light snack to stimulate the taste buds. And just by talking and having a conversation with the person, you’re providing audial stimulation as well as visual stimulation.

The activity idea above comes from CPI's Eric Worley. Check out more great tips from Eric for both professional and family caregivers.

Send Postcards
One of our community members wrote to us, “My grandmother wasn't happy when she moved into assisted living in 2008, so I started sending her a postcard every day. I did this for the past five years. When we were out of town, I had someone put one in the mailbox every day. I got these old postcards in bulk on eBay. They were from all over the world so she never got the same one twice. She loved getting mail. If you have a relative in assisted living or a nursing home, consider sending them a postcard, even with just one sentence on it, now and then. It will really brighten their day.”

What a wonderful way to give someone something to look forward to every day—to stimulate her visual and tactile senses, as well as her sense of hope and belonging. Read more on our Facebook page.

What activities do you have planned for Alzheimer's Action Day and throughout the year? Please share activities, tips, and stories in the Comments or with our community on Facebook!
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